If blunt force trauma took human form, it might look a lot like Paulo Henrique Costa.
The former Jungle Fight champion will carry a perfect 13-0 record into the Octagon when he challenges Israel Adesanya for the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title in the UFC 253 headliner on Saturday at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Costa, 29, has finished 12 of his 13 opponents, nine of them inside one round, during his rise to the upper reaches of the 185-pound weight class. However, injuries have sidelined “Borrachinha” for more than a year.
As Costa prepares for his first crack at UFC gold, a look at a few of the rivalries that have propelled him to this point:
In completing his metamorphosis from prospect to contender, Costa stayed unbeaten with a unanimous decision over Romero in a three-round middleweight showcase at UFC 241 on Aug. 17, 2019 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. All three judges scored it 29-28 for the hulking Brazilian, who was forced to go the distance for the first time in his 13-fight career. Both men were credited with knockdowns in a back-and-forth first round that seemed to tilt Costa’s way. He dropped Romero to all fours with a clean left hook and managed to weather a flying knee from the 2000 Olympic silver medalist. The middle stanza saw Costa attack the body with kicks and hooks from both hands, only to concede a takedown in the closing seconds. Perhaps sensing the need for a finish, Romero found another gear in Round 3, where he continued to absorb body blows without so much as a deep breath and responded with a savage right uppercut, straight lefts, heavy combinations and an inside trip takedown. Nevertheless, his efforts fell short.
Costa broke down the door to the middleweight division’s elite, as he disposed of Hall with punches in the second round of their featured UFC 226 prelim on July 7, 2018 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “Borrachinha” brought the firefight to a close 2:38 into Round 2. Hall fought well, pumping a stiff jab into the Brazilian’s face while attempting to slow his forward progress with stinging leg kicks. Costa refused to go away, even when the two-time Ring of Combat champion dropped him to a knee with a clubbing right to the side of the head in the second round. He flurried on Hall, backed him to the fence and dazed him with a left hook. Costa then fired a right uppercut to the body that brought down “The Ultimate Fighter 17” finalist and prompted referee Mark Smith to intervene.
It was perhaps the first true sign that the Ultimate Fighting Championship had a burgeoning threat on its hands, as Costa put away Hendricks with punches in the second round of their UFC 217 middleweight feature on Nov. 4, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Hendricks bowed out 1:23 into Round 2 in what turned out to be his swan song in the cage. Costa walked down the former welterweight champion with power punches to the head and brutal kicks to the body. Hendricks spent most of the fight in a state of retreat, trying to keep his head attached to his shoulders. Costa proved relentless and made his move in the middle stanza. There, he uncorked a right hook and right uppercut that had Hendricks diving at his legs. Sweeping rights and lefts followed, and referee John McCarthy moved in to prevent further damage.